– Dan Jones-
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ― Soren Kierkegaard
Backwards design is a common practice among educators. We look at what we want the end result to be and plan from that point to the beginning of the lesson. It is vital that we know where we want students to go so that we know how to lead them there. But what about our students? Do they know how to see the end and figure out how they are going to get there? This is not a natural process for students, and we need to help students develop a mental strategy that allows them to process information strategically.
Recently, I asked my students to tell me what grade they felt they deserved in my class and to justify why they deserved that grade. Next, I prompted them to tell me about the areas they felt they struggled with the most. Finally, the students were asked to tell me what they were the proudest of during this last semester and explain why. I had multiple students raise their hands and ask why we were doing this. I was a bit caught off guard because I thought that reflection was a natural process of the human psyche. I explained that reflections enable us to look at what is working and identify areas that they struggle in so that we can advance more efficiently and effectively. By asking students to reflect, I received some of the most honest writing from my students. Their honesty was developed through the relationships that I have nurtured throughout this school year. Students have been given permission to be imperfect. They are allowed to try and fail at something. They are allowed to express that they don’t know something. All of this is fostered through a supportive learning environment.
I helped the students process the purpose of the reflections they were writing by asking them to envision excellence. What are they doing that is excellent? By identifying excellence (mind you, we talk about excellence throughout the school year, and excellence is the standard for which we strive), students can work backwards so that they know how to move forward. Without a standard of excellence, students do not have a means of measuring success. A standard of excellence promotes change and refinement.
Meaningful reflection involves the students in the process of learning and establishes a growth mindset that builds greater meaning into the work that is being done. Students are not just learning content in the class, they are learning how to transform their perspective of the learning. The passive nature of just being told what to learn, how to process that information, and when to engage with the content does not allow students to own any part of the learning that occurs nor how they learn it. Passive education is shallow education. There is no internal processing if students do not reflect on the content covered or how the student is involved in the learning. When we involve students in the learning they experience, we actively move them through a developmental strategy that not only helps them to process information more deeply, but it enables them to grow in meaningful ways.
Mastery Learning is accountable learning. When students are held accountable for what they know, the students’ work habits are brought to the forefront of the process. Students can understand what helps them learn because they are easily able to see what helps them to master content as well as identify why they are struggling. The reflection that occurs within a mastery setting is one of purpose. It evokes change: change in students and change in teachers. After each lesson, my students fill out a form that is reflective. It asks the students about the lesson and whether they felt supported throughout the learning as well as whether the elements of the lesson were meaningful. Students are able to tell what worked well for them as well as what I need to do differently to ensure that they get the most from each lesson.
Reflection is the element within the Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning that evokes the greatest change in student learning. It reaches into the heart of the students and stirs them toward a greater approach than their current position. This deliberate approach needs to become routine. According to Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick, authors and editors of Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind, because it is not intuitive for students, we “find it easier to discard what has happened and to move on without taking stock of the seemingly isolated experiences of the past.”
When students are asked to engage in reflective practices, they move from being consumers to constructors. Terry Heick writes in the article, 8 Reflective Questions To Help Any Student Think About Their Learning, “Perhaps most crucially, by shifting their reflection from content to thought, students have the chance to put themselves back at the center of the learning process. When they reflect, students reimagine what happened in both 1st and 3rd person–as they were seen, and as they saw through their own eyes.” Reflection moves teachers from trying to control a classroom to a position of empowering students to be in more control of themselves.
As you reflect, how will you begin to integrate more reflective practices into your classroom?